US astronaut Rubio and two Russian cosmonauts land in Kazakhstan
US astronaut Rubio and two Russian cosmonauts land in Kazakhstan

U.S. astronaut Rubio and two Russian cosmonauts land in Kazakhstan

ALMATY (Reuters) -U.S. astronaut Frank Rubio, who broke the record for the longest continuous space flight by an American, and two Russian cosmonauts landed in the steppe of Kazakhstan on Wednesday after more than a year on the International Space Station (ISS).

Their Soyuz MS-23 capsule undocked from the ISS a minute earlier than scheduled, and took around three and a half hours to make it down to Earth, landing southeast of the city of Zhezqazghan

“The crew feel fine,” Moscow mission control said as the capsule parachuted down and landed in a cloud of dust. “The landing has taken place.”

“The crew have returned to earth after a year on the ISS,” Russia’s Roscosmos, Russia’s space corporation, said after the landing on time at 1117 GMT.

Rubio, who is 47 and on his first space voyage, travelled back to Earth with Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev, 48, and Dmitry Petelin, 40. Prokopyev was shown smiling beside the capsule.

They are six months late to return because their original spacecraft sprang a leak so a replacement had to be sent up to get them back. That gave the two Russians and Rubio an unexpectedly extended mission of 371 days in orbit.

On Sept. 11, Rubio surpassed the previous NASA record of 355 consecutive days in space set by now-retired U.S. astronaut Mark Vande Hei. Rubio is also the first American to spend a full year in space.

Though Rubio broke the American record, he and his Russian colleagues are far from the world record held by Russia’s Valeri Polyakov, who spent 437 consecutive days and 18 hours during a Mir space station mission between January 1994 and March 1995. Polyakov died last September aged 80.

Roscosmos said that Prokopyev had spent a total of more than 567 days in space, including previous trips.

Rubio, the son of Salvadoran parents who was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Miami, is a board-certified family physician and flight surgeon, a onetime U.S. Army special forces officer and a decorated Blackhawk helicopter pilot who flew combat missions in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Speaking to reporters from orbit eight days before his return to Earth, Rubio said he probably would have turned down what became his first spaceflight had he known in advance that the mission would go on for at least a year.

Rubio, who is married with four children, cited family obligations, but in the end he said he felt honored and took the extension of the mission in stride.

He said it would likely take months to regain his full sense of balance and strength after a prolonged stay in microgravity, and that he looks forward to the quiet of his backyard, compared with the constant drone and hum of machinery while aboard the ISS.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Gareth Jones)

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